Afag Masud: “The reason for the decrease of interest towards literature today is that life is more interesting than literature, that is, life with its relevance of meaning and content comes to the fore.”
We bring to the attention of readers an interview with Afag Masud, the People’s Writer, to the magazine “Phrase” on the topic of the Azerbaijani language, literature, theatre, creativity, etc.
‒ Mrs. Afag, you are the granddaughter of Ali Valiyev, the writer and the daughter of Masud Alioglu, the literary critic. What did to be born to a literary family give and take from you?
‒ Ali Valiyev and Masud Alioglu are historical figures who have made a significant contribution not only to my creativity, but also to the language, literature and science of Azerbaijan as a whole. Rereading the novels by Ali Valiyev that have the smell of mountain flowers and samovar smoke, articles and monographs by Masud Alioglu that are filled with deep philosophical truths, emotional upheavals and pain, one involuntarily marvels at the possibilities of the Azerbaijani language and the mastery of its use. I think that Ali Valiev and Masud Alioglu, their innate sense of the language, their love for the native language have become the basis to leave my works unfinished in recent years and devote all my creative energy to the ‘Mother Book’ of the Azerbaijani language - the Orthographic Dictionary. Regarding what was taken from me, this is probably writing. In other words, the deprivation of the right to live a normal life, a normal human life, like everybody. Constantly watching your surroundings as a secret spy responsible for what is happening and what will happen – with strange vigilance, for what you see and intervene, for a saving measure that will prevent the coming terrible accident, hastily saving it in memory, copying it to a computer or paper, and sometimes disappearing in bright weightlessness of the transparent border between sleep and reality, you write or think in the density of thoughts and sentences ‒ in a dense jungle full of words and faces, and so on and so forth.
‒ Due to statistics, the number of people who read fiction in the country is gradually decreasing. What do you think is the reason for this?
‒ If we are talking about serious literature, that is, I mean the real literature that can change something in the thinking and worldview of a person, then these statistics have always been the same in all periods of history. In other words, the masses have always striven not for serious literature that reveals deep, eternal truths, their meaning and essence, but for light-literature that redescribes to them what they have seen and understood in their daily lives. But today the picture is a little different. Today, the reason for the decrease of interest in literature, in general, in everything created by human thinking, is that life becomes more interesting than literature, that is, it comes to the fore by the relevance of meaning and content. The rhythm of life that has become much more compact and flexible because of the acceleration of the flow of time, shortening of months and days, and mysterious events, social and political processes, and an abundance of information, social networks, etc. that happen in the Universe, nature, society today have been putting on the back-burner not only literature, but also in general many eternal and unchanging values. Time, stimulated by the movement of the Earth, tells us that the life we live is no longer the arena of those poor trifles and battles for them, nor the world - the endless World in Stasis - full of those rough narrowness and stops, slow time intervals. Think about it, who would have thought that our world, dragged to the edge of the abyss, that is, the pain and suffering of heavy nails driven into its body with a cross, like the holy prophet Jesus, will be saved by the whole country, the ancient people – the Ukrainians – with the invincible national soul, with the boundless love for Motherland and freedom?
The point is that today the writer who created the literature of the period of rapid, unpredictable change, before picking up a pen, sitting in front of a computer, first of all, must understand in which side of the world he is located, what changes the landscape, spirit, meaning and content of all these events that happen, and he must at least have a certain idea about all these events in order to know what to write and not to write anymore. Otherwise, it, i.e. Literature, is doomed to perish with its obsolete pains and troubles, with its irrelevant ideas and problems that don’t coincide with today’s demands, or rather, to be struck and thrown out by the merciless judgment of Time, once considered eternal and immutable like itself.
‒ Some people highly appreciate your short story “The Sparrows”, some “The Crowd”, others your novel “Freedom.” If you had a choice, which one would you choose?
‒ These are different works. The short stories such as “The Sparrows”, “Death of a Rabbit”, “The Accident”, to name a few, were written in the late 80s, and they are about the loneliness of a person, his alienation from society, lost in a quagmire of unnecessary trifles and rules. “The Crowd” is a completely separate area ‒ it is a product of subconscious memory, which sees and understands events and incidents of a person’s real and past life in a completely different way. They are incomprehensible scenes of strange dreams that spread unreal truths, silent images of chronicles transferred to broken, black and white tapes. As for “Freedom”, it is a mystical historical novel that describes the fateful and historical transition of the entire country, the socio-political events that took place in the squares and streets of the city at that time, as well as parallel to them, it describes what happened in dozens of very close, intimate areas ‒ wider in terms of scale ‒ in the subconscious of the country or the city. Therefore, it is difficult to compare and distinguish them from each other.
‒ In your opinion, to what extent do life events influence the writer’s creativity?
‒ Of course, the period, place, environment, etc. don’t pass without impact on the writer and the work. But if the work is born out of a conflict between the writer’s imagination and real life, then the main influence on both ‒ the author’s subconscious, genetic memory ‒ perhaps has a repository of divine truths and information that preserved images and sceneries of a thousand years ago. Of course, if the writer has a path to this repository, some kind of reasonable or unreasonable connections, ties with them. The influence of such ties has been manifested even today in the works of many writers and poets since ancient times. That is, I’ve mentioned it a number of times ‒ transferring what is visible to paper as it appears, with eloquent phrases, is not the path of great literature.
‒ Are you satisfied with the work of the directors who have staged your plays? In general, are you satisfied with the current level of our theatre?
‒ Today, the level of our theatres, I think, does not satisfy anyone. So, unfortunately, we are facing the same situation in our theatres today. However, the theatre is perhaps the only level of art that has retained its place and significance in our rhythm of life, which is becoming narrower day by day. For the reason that the content and essence of thick books, which take weeks and months to read, can be conveyed vividly and emotionally in a short time using plasticity, light, sound and other effects. As for my plays, I consider each of the three plays staged to this day a significant event and a great success in the history of our national theatre. This is “On Deathbed”, staged by Vagif Ibrahimoglu, a talented director and great theatrical figure at the State Theatre “Yugh”, in which he played one of the main roles – Azrael, and in “HE Loves Me”, staged in the same theatre some time later. And “Woman Under a Train” was staged at the Azerbaijan State Academic Drama Theatre by our talented director Mehriban Alakbarzade. Today each play lives in memories with its impact on society and the circle of interest that it created.
‒ In recent years, two tendencies have been clearly observed in your creativity: turning to religious themes and the genre of drama... What’s the reason of your sudden interest in it?
‒About the history of my turning to the genre of drama I have recounted in several interviews. In short, I will say that the reason, or rather the hero of my turning to this genre, is Vagif Ibrahimoglu, the great master of stage who was greatly impressed by my work “On Deathbed” written in 2003. He inspired me with all sorts of explanations that only the theatre was able to open all the closed doors, to find the way to the secrets that lay in the hidden layers of the work with numerous passages and corridors, and as a result of these inspirations I wrote the first play of the same name - “On Deathbed.”
In regard to the religious theme, if you mean the play “Karbala”, then this is not a religious work. “Karbala” is a story about the great courage of an Eastern woman, the lives of holy imams who were mercilessly killed due to their divine love and devotion to God and their faith.
The epic drama tells us about a historical figure - Hazrat Ali’s daughter, Zeynab khanum who without fear of anyone made a clear and bold statement in the ancient city of Damascus, in the city’s central square full of people, and she engraved her name in the memory of mankind. Besides the drama tells us about the imam’s small children with whom she passed through a painful and honorable path, the historical journey that we call today “Safar Ayi” - the second month of the lunar based on Islamic calendar. Although the play was prepared for staging at the Academic National Drama Theatre by the order of the Ministry of Culture a few years ago, and the preliminary reading of the play began, the reigning atmosphere there, to put it mildly, the “businesslike” mood of the creative team, prompted me to make an official appeal to the ministry about the closing of the performance.
‒ You used to translate into Azerbaijani the works by great Sufi scholars, such as Muhammad Nasafi, Ghazali, Ibn Arabi and Rumi. How did the interest in these ancient texts arise?
‒ I’ve heard about Sufism from my father in my time. This divine philosophy is completely different from a real life, a mystical world, it spreads something different, forbidden truths that take a person away from his life, family, society, even himself, etc., and impressions created by these subject-matters have evoked interest in me since my student years. The second and more exciting wave of interest in this world, or rather, the need for it, was created by my works, through which I moved forward with mysterious writing paths at breakneck speed, sometimes crawling and exiting, or rather, resisting, with inexplicable cul-de-sacs, which do not intersect with reality in any way and never created mysterious stops ‒ divine moments with secret signs warning me, as if invisibly saying: “Stop!” And I started reading the first book about Sufism that had fallen into my hands. However, the complexity of ideas, expressions and the style of writing did not allow me to understand and interpret what was hidden under the lines. Then I decided to translate a small chapter at the end of the book - small stories called “Zikr” (instantaneous creation) by Imam Hassan”, reflecting the mysterious divinity of a man, his holiness, sin sensitivity and painful sufferings caused by this delicate sensitivity. As soon as I reached the end of the first story, I felt myself falling into a sea of turbulent emotions, my heart was in pain - reminiscent of love suffering, which engulfed my entire being, and I felt drops flowing from my eyes through my hot veins. It all began with this.
‒ What are you working on at the moment?
‒ As I have already mention, I have devoted my last seven years to working on the main book of our native language ‒Spelling Dictionary, the source of word and expressions for all literature. As a result of this laborious and time-consuming work, which requires exhausting mental activity, in 2017 the first perfect book “Practical Spelling Dictionary of the Azerbaijani language” was released, cleared of almost 60,000 thousand words with incorrect spelling and incomprehensible meaning, foreign words, obscene expressions, ridiculous consonances, unnecessary sound imitations, dog barking, meowing and hooting, and in 2020, the multi-volume “Spelling Dictionary of the Azerbaijani Language” was published. As a continuation of the process, a large-scale research work entitled “Classification of words removed from the Spelling Dictionary of the Azerbaijani Language (2013 and 2021 editions of the Nasimi Institute of Linguistics)”, has already been completed, in which about 60,000 errors removed from previous dictionaries are classified into separate chapters and sections. The book will soon be submitted to the State Language Commission and to the public. These years of sleepless nights full of mental anguish, attacks of nausea and migraines, devoted to the study of these incomprehensible word formations, poisonous words that I removed, as if with tweezers from under the skin, from that very “famous” book in a yellow cover, reflecting the whole picture of mockery of our language, and then examined every word almost under a magnifying glass, all these will forever remain in my memory, like the sad story of the famous English seafarer James Cook, who, by the will of fate, ended up on the island of the cannibal natives and later became their victim. But the other, more interesting side of the issue is that those difficult years, which had taken away a lot of my strength and creative energy, did not devastate me at all, but, on the contrary, grabbed me like a soldier after hard military trainings, and I discovered for myself that the Word, its power, its secret life and possibilities were filled with some mystical knowledge and divine information. And this mysterious event happened when I began to write the continuation of the novel “The Academy”, while going down to poorly lighted layers of the novel full of dusty manuscripts resembling underground tunnels...